Most of us had to deal with years of grammar and composition lessons and never really understood why we had to read books and write short stories, essays, and poems. And, today, with school long-gone, some of us still don’t like to read, and we rarely write anything other than business reports and emails.
Going even further, most of us have no idea how to tell a story. We know we enjoy good stories (the movie theaters are filled with viewers night after night all over the world). But we have no idea how a good story happens.
According to Isaac Asimov, one of the world’s great science fiction writers, there are no real ‘suggestions’ as to how to tell stories, but he does provide four key tips to help a young writer:
For Asimov, it’s important to know and use the right tools. And the writer’s most important tool is language. If you want to be a writer, you have to develop a good vocabulary, learn grammar, and learn how to spell.
But there will be no point to mastering vocabulary if you don’t know how to weave the elements of your story. Every character has to have a purpose. And at every moment, the progression of the plot points is moving toward a specific conclusion. To achieve this interweaving, there’s nothing better than to read the great masters of prose, like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. And don’t only see what they do, but try to analyze what they’re doing, and why.
To write a good story, it isn’t enough to have a general idea of what we’re talking about. We have to have a solid understanding of the context we’re creating: What is your context? How can you write about a baseball game if all you only know are the rules of baseball? Isn’t it just as important to know the pressure a batter feels when facing a pitcher? How does it feel to be a spectator? What’s the thrill of watching a game closely? How does it feel to enjoy a sunny day and eat a hot dog? A good writer has to have first-hand experience of the various contents of the story. At the very least, detailed research has to happen if first-hand experience is impossible.
4. Merge plot into environment/context:
In the heat of writing, it’s not unusual for a writer to forget the environment in which the characters are living and functioning and to focus only on the action. If this is you, don’t be distracted by dialogue and action. Pretty much the only way a reader is going to be able to imagine your story is if you describe in some detail the environment in which your characters are living and functioning.
These tips are valuable to all writers. Not just for people who write blogs, which are all the rage today. They’re also for people who create business presentations. In fact, storytelling is becoming increasingly more popular here, because it is stories that engage audiences even when the subject matter is complex or boring … or both.
So, to adapt Asimov’s writing tips to creating a presentation:
1) The writer needs to have a good vocabulary, one that is shared by the audience. There’s no point saying “if you please” to a group of teenagers! Remember: This applies to presentations with and without storytelling. Your language must conform to the experience of your audience.
2) Throughout your presentation, be sure to let the dialogue and actions of each character predominate. All your characters and words must have a purpose, bringing coherence to your story. It’s up to you, the writer, to know what that purpose is.
3) When creating a presentation, you have to know the content inside-out. How can you talk about a technological system when the terms may as well be a foreign language you don’t speak? So search, learn, and master the subject of your presentation before you sit down to develop the presentation.
4) It’s common that a presentation writer gets excited about the story and forgets totally about the presentation that story is supposed to be delivering. Yes, you may be using a story in a presentation, but you’re also supposed to be sharing or even selling something, right? So, yes, you need to entertain your audience, but never forget your main goal. Make sure your story is helping you to convey the message you need to convey.
So now that you know the value of a good story, you can ask those people up at the front of the room: “How come you didn’t use storytelling in your presentation?”